Today I had several doctor appointments, and was reminded of the value of kindness. One of the people who checked me into my oncology appointments and infusions is now working in optometry. She remembered me from a year and a half ago — we used to talk briefly about everything from new hats to vacations — and we discussed how wonderful the oncology nurses are, as well as the therapy dog “Bettine” who always greets me when I go there. I told her I only have 3 more months of infusions, and she congratulated me on my soon-to-be graduation. This was only one of the many extremely nice people I have met at the two hospitals I have been involved with since my cancer began. They are the ones who remember my name, who say a few extra words to me, who smile and are always interested in how I’m doing. When a person is going in often for invasive and painful treatments, it is the most wonderful thing in the world to be treated kindly. These are things I will never forget, and have continued to teach me the value of also being kind to others.
Kindness was definitely present at the beginning of my life. I had a good life when I was growing up, a loving family, a cat and a dog, a good home first in town, then in the country. Somewhere along the line however, the kindness I gave to others lessened, as I turned into a pretty gnarly teenager and a rebellious young adult with self esteem issues. And when I was a depressed adult, I was so self centered that I didn’t pay much attention to anything else. As a parent, I was constantly involved with a difficult ex and always having to fight about my kids. (Therapists used to say it would be so much better if we could get along, well I knew that, but there are some people who have to be in control and can’t negotiate or listen, so every encounter is difficult.) Not much kindness there. And unfortunately, my next long term partner was often angry, and often unkind to me and to most people we encountered. Remarkably enough, my parents not only tolerated me with patience and kindness, but were kind to every one of my partners. And yet it was when I got cancer and was completely dependent on others that I finally understood how much kindness could change my life — on both the giving and the receiving end.
It actually started a few years before that, when I met Sarita. She was consistently kind to me. We started out as best friends. No matter what I went through, no matter what my mood, no matter what mistakes I made, she saw through me to my soul and treated me kindly. She wasn’t kind one minute and blaming me for something the next (as my previous partner did, and as I had come to expect from a partner), she always saw the good in me. My sister says you can tell the truth about a person when you see how they treat their worst enemies. Sarita was kind to everyone. I learned from that, it reminded me that I’d been brought up to be a kind person, but somewhere along the line I became too fearful, too self involved. One of the reasons Sarita and I feel we are exactly right as a couple, is that we bring out the kindness in each other.
It really became apparent how important kindness was when I got cancer. First of all, Sarita always took care of me with gentleness, vigilance, and compassion. She woke up in the middle of a deep sleep to put my back brace on if I needed to use the bathroom in the night, learned to take care of so many things on my body during my bone marrow transplant, including injections and the special cleaning of my port, and every night without fail she said, “Wake me if you need me” before we went to sleep. She listened to me cry daily for months out of fear and frustration, and even now when I worry that I’m not doing enough, she says she only wants me to do exactly what I want to do every day, and is appreciative of anything I do for the household. Wow, she is an amazing partner!
But it was with others that we really noticed how kindness could make a difficult day (for both of us) bearable. Particularly the kindness of the people in the health field, as I now come back around to where I started. Gentle and kind nurses, who obviously cared about us more than just as sick client and partner, and were patient with our questions, and gave explanations for the procedures that were being forced on me, could absolutely turn me around from feeling scared and sorry for myself to being interested in the world again. They listened, they made me think, they reassured, they talked about other things as well. They did not make it seems as though the demands of the job were too overwhelming (although I’m sure they sometimes were) or hateful. I did have nurses who obviously did not want to deal with my needs when I could not get out of bed to use the bathroom, I could hear and see their disgust. Luckily, I had others who went out of their way to make sure I was clean and comfortable, without any hint that I should feel embarrassed. That was a huge thing for me. When I was anxious about the IV’s (because they seemed difficult to put in my arm), and I asked for the people who were really good at it, one woman declined to comment till after she put it in (easily and relatively painlessly), then said she did not say anything about her proficiency because she didn’t want to make it seem as though she was bragging.
I was lucky to have some kind doctors too. One just held my hand when I was in the hospital and let me sob out all my concerns. She was a rare jewel. Another always let me express all my concerns, ask my questions, and never ever made me feel rushed or like anything I said was stupid. He was the calmest and most truthful doctor I had. It just took a measure of kindness from anyone we dealt with during our many appointments and hospital stays to change a frightening and horrible experience into one where we were as comfortable and calm as was possible in the circumstances. THIS IS A HUGE THING for a person who feels vulnerable, out of control, and scared.
The other place we’ve really appreciated kindness, is in our communities. People came out of the woodwork here in CA to help us make an accessible bedroom for me and to bring food and help with driving. In NM we have met kind people from all walks of life who have gone out of their way to make us feel welcome, to help with our house, to include us in their activities, and to give us precious gifts. We are indeed very very lucky people, and feel we are coming into an era of kindness that reflects our ages, where we choose to settle, and being involved with communities of people who believe we can make the world a better place.
So now we try to go out of our way to appreciate kindness when we receive it. Sometimes it is an acknowledgement to the person, sometimes it is a good word to their supervisor. We do this in any situation, including grocery stores. I am also more conscious of the opportunities that arise where I can give a kindness to someone else, perhaps a smile as I pass someone when walking the dogs. I know there is always more I can do, am reminded of this by Sarita, who stays kind even in frustrating conversations with big companies like Comcast. What I notice, is that kindness given can result in a change of attitude by the other person, so that they become more relaxed and kinder, no matter how they were originally feeling. I am a lucky person to be experiencing this now, while I’m still alive and can continue to practice kindness, and I thank all those who go out of their ways to make kindness to others a part of their everyday lives.